Circling in on Paris’ Arc d’Triomphe

On the eastern end of the Champs-Elysees, the iconic memorial arch is a traffic nightmare but a tourist’s lesson in French history

Traffic whips around Paris' grandest arch while tourists savor the view from the top. (Barb Geisler / Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door)

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The skyscrapers in the suburbs contrast sharply with the uniformly low-slung buildings downtown. The beauty of Paris—basically a flat basin with a river running through it—is man-made. The key to this beauty is the harmonious relationship between the width of its grand boulevards and the height and design of the buildings. This elegant skyline is broken only by venerable historic domes, the Eiffel Tower—and the rude and lonely Montparnasse Tower, which stands like the box the Eiffel Tower came in. The appearance of this black, blocky tower served as a wake-up call in the early 1970s to preserve the historic skyline of downtown Paris.

Looking down from the arch, you get a bird’s-eye view of the crazy traffic you survived to get here. Drivers maneuver their way around the circle—incurring no dents...only scratches—to reach their desired exit and wing off to whatever awaits them in Paris. For more details, please see Rick Steves’ Paris.

For more details, please see Rick Steves’ Paris.

Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

© 2010 Rick Steves

About Rick Steves
Rick Steves

Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality. He coordinated with Smithsonian magazine to produce a special travel issue Travels with Rick Steves.

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